Joe Nickell

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Joe Nickell
Joe Nickell European Skeptics Congress Budapest.png
Nickell at the 2010
European Skeptics Congress in Budapest
Born (1944-12-01) December 1, 1944 (age 69)
West Liberty, Kentucky
Education Ph.D. in English
Alma mater University of Kentucky
Occupation Senior Research Fellow
Known for CSICOP
Website
http://www.joenickell.com/

Joe Nickell (born December 1, 1944) is a prominent skeptic and investigator of the paranormal. He has helped expose such famous forgeries as the purported diary of Jack the Ripper. In 2002 he was one of a number of experts asked by scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to evaluate the authenticity of the manuscript of Hannah Crafts' The Bondwoman's Narrative (1853–1860), possibly the first novel by an African-American woman.[1] At the request of document dealer and historian, Seth Keller, Nickell analyzed documentation in the dispute over the authorship of "The Night Before Christmas", ultimately supporting the Clement Clarke Moore claim.

Nickell is Senior Research Fellow for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and writes regularly for their journal, the Skeptical Inquirer. He is also an associate dean of the Center for Inquiry Institute. He is the author or editor of over 30 books.

Personal life[edit]

Joe Nickell is the son of J. Wendell and Ella (Turner) Nickell, and grew up in West Liberty, Kentucky.[2] His parents indulged his interest in magic and investigation, allowing him to set a side a room in their house as a crime lab. In 1968, he avoided the draft by moving to Canada where he began his careers as a magician, a card dealer, and a private investigator. When President Jimmy Carter granted unconditional pardons to draft dodgers in 1977, Nickell returned to the United States.[3]

In late 2003, Nickell reconnected with his college girlfriend, Diana G. Harris, and learned he had a daughter, Cherette, and two grandsons, Tyner and Chase.[2][4] Harris and Nickell married in Springfield, Illinois on April 1, 2006.[5] Harris has assisted Nickell in his investigative work.[4]

Cherette had always been told that her biological father was her mother's first husband, although she questioned the lack of family resemblance. On her wedding day, one of the guests mentioned that her parents weren't married when she was conceived. Later Cherette asked her mother about her father and sensed an equivocation in the answer. More conversations with her mother and a DNA test proved that Nickell was her father. Nickell used his daughter's claim that her search was the result of an intuition as the basis for an article on the unconscious collection and processing of data. Nickell concluded,

"Cautions notwithstanding, I must admit to a new appreciation of intuition, without which I would not have known of my wonderful daughter--and two grandsons! It's enough to warm an old skeptic's heart." [6]

Career[edit]

Nickell holds B.A.(1967), M.A.(1982), and Ph.D.(1987) degrees from the University of Kentucky. [7] His Ph.D. is in English for graduate work focusing on literary investigation and folklore.[8][9]

Joe Nickell (right) during TAM9 in 2011, with Richard Wiseman and Phil Plait

Nickell has worked professionally as a stage magician, carnival pitchman, private detective, blackjack dealer, riverboat manager, university instructor, author, and paranormal investigator, listing over 1000 personae on his website. Since the early 1980s, he has researched, written, co-authored and edited books in many genres.

In the 2007 horror film The Reaping, actress Hilary Swank plays an investigator of the paranormal. Nickell was selected as a character consultant and invited to the movie set to meet with Swank. Nickell said, "I liked the first 10 or 15 minutes, where the character seemed to be doing something similar to what I do. But then it changed into the world of the supernatural, which, for good or evil, has never happened to me: I've never had frogs rain down upon upon me!"[10]

Nickell is frequently consulted by news and television producers for his skeptical perspective.[11][12][13] He was profiled by The New Yorker writer Burkhard Bilger who met Nickell during the summer of 2002 at Lily Dale, New York, where he had disguised himself to investigate Spiritualist psychics.[14] Nickell is a recurring guest on the Point of Inquiry podcast and conducts the annual Houdini Seance at the Center for Inquiry every Halloween.[15]

Nickell explained his philosophy to Blake Smith of the Skeptic podcast "MonsterTalk",

"I don't like debunkers and I don't like dismissers, people who are just trying to say, "Oh,humbug... Those people were probably drunk or lying or hoaxing." I just think we shouldn't do that. If I'm studying vampires, I don't have to believe they exist to talk about the history of vampires, the cultural and literary history. There are many aspects, all worthy of some scholarly discussion."[16]

Books[edit]

Nickell's books can be divided into four main categories—religious, forensic, paranormal, and mysteries. He has also written two books for young readers and two stand-alone books, one on UFOs, one on a regional alcoholic drink, and several additional small press and "contributed to" books.[17]

Miracles and religious artifacts[edit]

Beginning in 1982 with his book, Inquest on the Shroud of Turin: Latest Scientific Findings, Nickell demonstrates his research model of collecting evidence and following that evidence to a sustainable conclusion. He updated the book in 1998 with more recent historical, iconographic, forensic, physical and chemical evidence, with special explanations of the radiocarbon dating process.

In his 1993 book, Looking for a Miracle: Weeping Icons, Relics, Stigmata, Visions and Healing Cures, updated in 1998, Nickell applies the same research model to miracles claimed by various religions. For each incident, Nickell reviews the contemporaneous written accounts, explores various natural explanations, explains the cultural environment surrounding the events, and speculates on the motivations of the affected religious community. The miracles turned out to be either outright hoaxes or misinterpretations of natural phenomena. Viewing the weeping St. Irene icon in Queens, New York, Nickell said,

"The glistening varnish and certain surface irregularities created a play of light that produced the appearance of weeping. A religious supplicant predisposed to see tears...could, especially if carrying a candle, see in the resultant glimmering in the tiny eyes, aided by vertical cracks and other streaks, the effect of tears."[18]

Relics of the Christ (British edition, "The Jesus Relics: From the Holy Grail to the Turin Shroud"), written in 2007, focuses on the Christian tradition of relics. Speaking with D.J. Grothe on the Point of Inquiry podcast, Nickell proposed that veneration of relics has become a new idolatry; that is, worship of an actual deity within the relics in form of an entity that moves its eyes, weeps, bleeds, and even walks. He explained that although no icon in history has ever been proven authentic, he approaches each case with a suspension of disbelief, "I'm interested in the evidence because I want us to know what the truth is...I urge skeptics...not to be as close-minded as the other side is ridiculously open-minded."[19]

In 2008, Prometheus Books published John Calvin's Treatise on Relics with an introduction by Nickell that included a brief biography of Calvin and references from his 2007 Relics book. Calvin was more harsh than Nickell on those who believe in relics,

"Now, as one evil never comes alone but is always followed by another, it thus happened that where people were seeking for relics, either of Jesus Christ or the saints, they became so blind that whatever name was imposed upon any rubbish presented to them, they received it without any examination or judgment; thus the bones of an ass or dog, which any hawker gave out to be the bones of a martyr, were devoutly received without any difficulty...What a sacrilege to make use of the name of Jesus Christ in order to invent such absurd fables! ...How can any but idiots believe such things? ...It may be asked, how it came to pass that these manufacturers of relics, having collected and forged without any reason all that their imaginations could fancy in any way, could have omitted subjects pertaining to the Old Testament? The only reply I can give to this query is, that they looked with contempt on those subjects, from which they did not anticipate any considerable gain...Now, those who fall into this error must do so willingly, as no one can from henceforth plead ignorance on the subject as their excuse."[20]

Nickell applies his scientific, historical and cultural analysis to 57 reported miracles in The Science of Miracles: Investigating the Incredible. From the Virgin Mary's face on a grilled cheese sandwich to the Cross's ability to regenerate as pieces are removed to the structural deficiencies of the Loretto Chapel staircase, Nickell's descriptions of fact and myth are presented with clarity and respect. However, the book was criticized in the New York Journal of Books for research limited to non-Biblical sources.

"Less satisfying to the reader is the approach taken to miracles described in the Bible. Mr. Nickell focuses on the miracles of Jesus, dismissing them primarily as parables told to make a point that were later converted into miracle stories. ...Equally dismissive is his approach to glossolalia (speaking in tongues)...he does not bring to bear the available and abundant data that support the reality of this spiritual gift. He also ignores the discussion about glossolalia that can be found in the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians chapters 12 and 14)."[21]

Forensic investigations[edit]

Joe Nickell in his office
Amherst, New York, 2013

Nickell's first book in the authentication genre was Pen, Ink, and Evidence: A study of Writing and Writing Materials for the Penman, Collector, and Document Detective, described as a definitive work for researchers and practitioners. Mary Hood of the Georgia Review appreciated Nickell's scholarship:

" "Enthusiasm" does not quite express Nickell's sober authority of tone; "quiet passion" is more apposite...Both Nickell's interest in the subject and his treatment of it are devout...Although the book contains a useful index for the fact-checker who has no time to saunter, the true and earnest pen collector, paper-freak pilgrim, or office-supply junkie will find that every polished page contains its blessing and bliss."[22]

In Camera Clues: A Handbook for Photographic Investigation, Nickell begins with the history of photography then leads the reader through methods of dating photographs, from the physical characteristics of the picture itself to the subject and contents of the photo. He explains how old photographs can be faked and how those fakes can be detected. In the same investigative mode, Nickell describes identification of persons and places in old photos and the use of photography by law enforcement. The book closes with various trick photography techniques, including ghost and spirit photography. As expected for a book written in 1994, Camera Clues has little mention of computer images or digital camera technology.

Joe Nickell at QED Con 2012 with spirit photos

Detecting Forgery: Forensic Investigation of Documents begins with an explanation of a document expert's work, "...the authenticity of a signature or other writing; the compatibility of paper, ink, and other materials with the purported age of the document; and the presence or absence of alterations...the examiner must become familiar with all the basic styles of penmanship—including, if he or she is to work with historic documents, antiquated handwriting systems." Nickell explains that forged documents are often revealed by the forgers' ignorance of or inability to re-create historic typefaces, inks, papers, pens, watermarks, signatures, and historic styles. For example, the MJ-12 documents, reportedly revealing a government cover-up of a crashed flying saucer, contained anomalies that "...outweighed its perceived congruities..." in format, dating, alignment, and signature. Nickell and others concluded the memo was a hoax. Nickell also explains the forgeries of Daniel Boone's musket, Mark Hofmann's Mormon papers, and the Vinland Map.[23]

Crime Science: Methods of Forensic Detection was reviewed by Publishers Weekly shortly after its 1998 release:

"After an introductory chapter details the proper protocol for securing a crime scene, nine chapters focus on different forms of evidence. Although the writing is uninspired, a great deal of basic information is presented. Each chapter ends with a well-known case study in which the techniques discussed played a significant role. The relatively brief case studies are the most interesting portion of the book and demonstrate the range of evidence with which investigators must deal."

[24] Real or Fake: Studies in Authentication draws on Nickell's earlier works for the technicalities of paper, ink, typefaces, pens, and other keys to determining authenticity of paper documents. New material details the step-by-step investigations of specific cases—the diary of Jack the Ripper (fake), the Bondwoman's Narrative (date authenticated, author unknown), Lincoln's Lost Gettysburg Address (fake), and An Outlaw's Scribblings (fake). Nickell described a typical analysis:

"I decided to test the brown ink of the "Bonney" writing on page 10 of the album, lifting a sample onto chromatography paper dampened with distilled water. It transferred surprisingly easily (and thus suspiciously) and tested negative for iron (using hydrochloric acid digestion followed by potassium ferrocyanide reagent). The ink thus had the characteristics of a brown-colored ink and not a black-colored ink that had turned brown with age through oxidation. The availability of a brown-colored ink in 1881—especially on the western frontier—seems very unlikely. It could well be that the forger used brown ink to avoid the difficulty of having to artificially age an iron ink and thus transform it from black to brown."[25]

Paranormal investigations[edit]

Joe Nickell at QED Con 2012 with photo of alleged Spontaneous Human Combustion

Secrets of the Supernatural: Investigating the World's Occult Mysteries was Nickell's first book of his paranormal investigation genre. He and his collaborator, John F. Fisher, look for the answers to the Crystal Skulls, spontaneous human combustion, the Mackenzie House, and lesser known mysteries. On a Point of Inquiry podcast years later, Nickell explained that the same mysteries are reported over and over again because, "For each new generation, they have to re-learn that there is controversy...Each new generation hears these for the first time...It's an endless process in which you have to be willing to speak to the next crop of people."[26]

Missing Pieces: How to Investigate Ghosts, UFOs, Physics, and Other Mysteries, written by Nickell and Robert A. Baker, is a handbook that combines the practical techniques of investigating the paranormal with a description of the psychology of believers. Baker and Nickell met at the University of Kentucky and Nickell often quoted Baker, "...there are no haunted places, only haunted people."[27]

Mysterious Realms: Probing Paranormal, Historical, and Forensic Enigmas, written by Nickell and Fisher, analyzes another 10 frequently reported mysteries, including the Kennedy assassination, Kentucky's Gray Lady ghost, and UFO cover-up conspiracy theories.

Nickell asked several researchers to investigate the claims of psychic detectives, then collected their reports in Psychic Sleuths: ESP and Sensational Cases. None of the reports give any credibility to the psychics and Nickell concludes they are either self-deluded or frauds. Many use cold reading in their conversations with police detectives, getting the officers to reveal details about the investigation that the psychic then includes in a prediction. Others use retrofitting; that is, throwing out several vague clues during the investigation and, when the case is solved, showcasing the clues that had any relationship to the solution and ignoring those that were irrelevant.[28]

In Entities: Angels, Spirits, Demons, and Other Alien Beings, Nickell begins with a ghost story from the 17th century, then shows how such stories evolved in the 19th and 20th centuries as new technology and communication methods became available. The faked Cottingley Fairies photographs, for example, became possible only when cameras became available to the general public.

The Outer Edge: Classic Investigations of the Paranormal is a collection of articles edited by Nickell, Barry Karr and Tom Genoni. It features Nickell and John F. Fischer's 1987 work "Incredible Cremations: Investigating Spontaneous Combustion Deaths" along with essays by Martin Gardner, Ray Hyman, Susan Blackmore, and James Randi. In the introduction, Carl Sagan writes about being accused, as a skeptic, of closing his mind to the truth:

"Prejudice is making a judgment before you have looked at the facts. Postjudice is making a judgment afterwards. Prejudice is terrible. Postjudice is not terrible...it is permissible to make a judgment after you have examined the evidence. In some circles, it is even encouraged."

Adventures in Paranormal Investigation is a more detailed work than many of Nickell's others, running the gamut from dowsing to Frankenstein to healing spas. Adventures contains Nickell's essay on discovering he had an adult daughter and accepting that she attributed her search for him to "intuition".

The first half of CSI Paranormal is a handbook on how to investigate paranormal claims. Nickell dismisses the approach of stumbling in the dark misinterpreting electronic meter readings, confusing correlation with causality, and arguing from ignorance; i.e., "I don't know what it is so it must be a ghost." Instead, he proposes an investigative strategy to:

  1. Investigate on site
  2. Check details of an account
  3. Research precedents
  4. Carefully examine physical evidence
  5. Analyze development of a phenomenon
  6. Assess a claim with a controlled test or experiment
  7. Consider an innovative analysis
  8. Attempt to recreate the "impossible"
  9. Go undercover to investigate

In the second half of the book, Nickell shows how this strategy has been used to evaluate the claims of the Giant Ell, the Roswell UFO, the grilled cheese Madonna, and John Edward.

In the 2012 book, The Science of Ghosts, Nickell relates several archetype ghost stories—the girl in the snow, Elvis, phantom soldiers, and haunted lighthouses, castles, ships, and theaters. By tracking the development of these stories over the years, he demonstrates that the stories are not evidence of spirits, but evidence of the impact an appropriate setting can have on susceptible witnesses. He refreshes his subject with an analysis of 21st century paranormal investigators, particularly Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson of the Syfy Channel's Ghost Hunters. He compares their investigations of the Myrtles Plantation, the Winchester Mystery House and the St. Augustine Lighthouse with his own, concluding

"...the approach of so-called ghost hunters is simply one of mystery mongering. Like claims for the paranormal in general, their assertions that certain places are haunted are based on the logical fallacy of arguing from ignorance: "We don't know what caused such-and-such (a noise, say), so it must be a ghost. In fact, one cannot draw a conclusion from a lack of knowledge. The problem is exacerbated by the pseudoscientific use of scientific equipment and by the distinct possibility that ghost hunters are actually causing—even if unintentionally—some of the very phenomena they are experiencing!"[29]

Mysteries[edit]

Ambrose Bierce Is Missing And Other Historical Mysteries was Nickell's 1992 foray presenting historical investigations to the reading public.In the introduction, he uses the legal concepts of "a preponderance of the evidence" and "clear and compelling evidence" as standards by which hypotheses explaining mysteries should be objectively measured. Subjectively wishing an explanation is true can lead to imposing a hypothesis on the data instead of using data to test a hypothesis (the scientific method). Nickell's 2005 update of Ambrose Bierce, Unsolved History: Investigating Mysteries of the Past, is the same text with the addition of two books to its "Recommended Works".

Real-Life X-Files and its sequel, The Mystery Chronicle are a series of short essays on the histories, expanding mythologies, and likely causes of several dozen mysteries. In some cases, Nickell re-creates the legends, demonstrating that no special powers are needed to duplicate the effects. In others, he answers common lore with facts uncovered in his research. In 1982, Nickell and five of his relatives created a 440 foot long condor in a field in Kentucky by plotting coordinates of points on a drawing, a technique Nickell believes could have been used to create the Nazca Lines in Peru. "That is, on the small drawing we would measure along the center line from one end (the bird's beak) to a point on the line directly opposite the point to be plotted (say a wing tip). Then we would measure the distance from the center line to the desired point. A given number of units on the small drawing would require the same number of units—larger units—on the large drawing."[30]

Harry Eager of the The Maui News calls Secrets of Sideshows " ...virtually an encyclopedia of that nearly extinct form of entertainment."[31] He faults Nickell for downplaying the brutality and grim fakery of the shows, especially what he calls "prettying" the geeks.

Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures is a collaboration of Nickell and Ben Radford. Author Ed Grabianowski summarizes one of the many possible explanations for lake monster sightings,

"...a convincing argument based, again, on data mapping. He plotted the distribution of North American lake monster sightings. Then he overlaid the distribution of the common otter and found a near perfect match. It turns out that three or four otters swimming in a line look remarkably like a serpentine, humped creature undulating through the water. It is very easy to mistake for a single creature if you see them from a distance. "This isn't speculation. I'm not making this up," Nickell said. "I've spoken to people who saw what they thought was a lake monster, got closer and discovered it was actually a line of otters. That really happens." Clearly, not every lake monster sighting can be accounted for with otters, but it's an excellent example of how our perceptions can be fooled.[32]

Joe Nickell as a zombie
CSICon in Nashville 2012

The research for Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More took Nickell to many locations of reported monster sightings—the Pacific Northwest for Bigfoot, Australia for the Yowie, Austria for werewolves, New England for vampires, Argentina for the Chupacabra, West Virginia for aliens, and Louisiana for the swamp creatures. Nickell traces the monsters' iconography from first reports to latest sightings, concluding that the tales reflect the evolution of their cultural environment, not any basis in fact. A quote from his guide in the Louisiana swamps provides insight into the genesis of the tales, " ...frightening tales could sometimes have been concocted to keep outsiders away—to safeguard prime hunting territory or even possibly to help protect moonshine stills. Charbonnet also suggested that such stories served in a bogyman fashion, frightening children so they would keep away from dangerous areas."[33]

Young readers[edit]

In 1989, Nickell wrote his first book for young readers, The Magic Detectives: Join Them in Solving Strange Mysteries, engaging children by presenting paranormal stories in the form of mysteries with clues embedded in the narrative. The solutions, printed upside down, follow each story. The book also contains teachers' guides for additional assignments and recommended readings.

The 1991 Wonder Workers! How They Perform the Impossible was summarized by P.J. Rooks as, "...a 200-year, biographical tour of some of the more famous shenanigans and side show splendors of both sincere and charlatan magicians...{that} guides readers on a fascinating exposé of magical history that leaves us, at the end of every page, thinking, "A-ha! I was wondering how they did that!" [34]

UFOs[edit]

In 1997, Nickell, with Kendrick Frazier and Barry Karr, published "The UFO Invasion", an anthology of UFO articles written for the Skeptical Inquirer magazine covering the topic from history and abductions to Roswell and crop circles. The editors included six of Nickell's articles in the book. Nickell explained the physiology of alien abduction stories, "People claiming to be abducted by aliens is such an astonishing thing that you think they have either be crazy or lying, and in fact they may be perfectly sane and normal. ...They probably were having these powerful waking dreams. ...In this state, they tend to see bizarre imagery. ...The other kind of experience is hypnosis. ...Hypnosis is the yellow brick road to fantasy land."[35]

Unclassifiable[edit]

The Kentucky Mint Julep was reviewed by Horse-Races.Net,

"Written by Colonel Joe Nickell, yes a real Kentucky Colonel who is quite an interesting character in his own right, the book starts off with the origin of the word julep. The history behind each of the ingredients then unfolds followed by the origin of the drink that became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby back in 1938. The second segment of the book is "Julep Lore," a compilation of tales, anecdotes, quotes, and more in praise of the julep from such people as Charles Dickens and Washington Irving. The third segment is a collection of over 20 historic and modern mint julep recipes, including low-cal, non-alcoholic, and fancy versions plus a punchbowl recipe perfect for a Derby party. ...The final segment covers the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a tour seven of the country's oldest bourbon distilleries. Each distillery is presented with a brief history, their specialties, and tour information." [36]

Controversies[edit]

The Shroud of Turin[edit]

Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin, claimed to be the burial cloth of Jesus miraculously imprinted with the image of his crucified body, is one of Christianity's most famous icons. The Roman Catholic Church, in possession of the Shroud since 1983, has allowed several public viewings and encourages devotions to the image, but takes no official position on the icon's authenticity.[37] Nickell and others contend the Shroud is an 14th-century painting on linen, verified through radiocarbon dating. One of Nickell's many objections to the Shroud's authenticity is the proportions of the figure's face and body. Both are consistent with the proportions used by Gothic artists of the period and are not those of an actual person.[38] Experts on both sides of the controversy have tried to duplicate the Shroud using medieval and modern methods. Claimants to the Shroud's authenticity believe the image could have been produced at the moment of resurrection by radiation, electrical discharge, or ultraviolet radiation; Nickell created a credible shroud using the bas relief method and contends that forgers had equivalent materials available during the 14th century.

"People assume it was about religion. ...I put together a team that had Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and agnostics. ...For us it was not a religious issue, it was a matter of evidence. ...You want people to be precisely correct about evidence. Details matter."[26]

The Warrens[edit]

Although Nickell rejects the term "debunker" to describe his work, his evidenced-based investigations of paranormal events has not yet uncovered any miracles, ghosts or monsters. His insistence on documented facts led to a heated exchange with Ed and Lorraine Warren on the Sally show in 1992. Nickell and the Warrens appeared on Sally Jesse Raphael's talk show with the Snedeker family, whose reports of ghosts and demons led to the 1992 book, "In A Dark Place, The Story Of A True Haunting" by novelist Ray Garton and the 2009 movie, A Haunting in Connecticut. After an on-air threat of violence from Ed Warren, Nickell stated:

"I've investigated haunted houses for some twenty years. I've not met a house that I thought was haunted; I think the Warren's have not met a house they didn't think was haunted. ...The houses that sincere people report they think are haunted usually follow a certain pattern. This is a hodgepodge of the sort of ghost tale, poltergeist, part demon, part this, part that. We saw a similar pattern with the Amityville Horror, a case that the Warrens thought was genuine. It turned out to be a blatant hoax, concocted over several bottles of wine."[39]

Nickell continues to cite the Warrens as an example of exploitative and harmful charlatans. He told Blake Smith, host of the MonsterTalk podcast,

"The next thing you know, the Warrens have convinced everybody that there were demons involved. Lorraine would go into one of her light trances, which would mean she would just close her eyes and haul off and say something. She would sense some demonic presence. The two of them would talk a good talk about this. You see these poor unsuspecting people who first of all don't know anything about the paranormal and not aware that there are no haunted places, only haunted people, as Robert Baker used to say. When you have someone who's an expert explaining to them that there are these different kinds of spirits and this and that and the other, they don't know any better. They think maybe these people know what they're talking about. It's interesting that in every case of this, these were Catholic families. Ed and Lorraine would show up and convince them that it was really demonic and that they really needed to use their Catholic powers of exorcism and holy water and so forth. They were converted into a demonic book and then they would get a ghost writer. All of the shenanigans would be restyled and exaggerated and spooky elements thrown in."[40]

Aliens[edit]

Nickell proposes that alien encounters are the result of misinterpreted natural phenomena, hoaxes, or a fantasy prone personality. To explain the evolving nature of alien sightings, Nickell told the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast team,

"I did an alien timeline, and did sort of Walt Disney-esque cartoon drawings of the different types of aliens, starting in 1947 with some little green men, and showing the sort of imaginative variety of alien types over the years, of hairy dwarves, and cyclopean figures, and robotic forms and blobs and just all manner. Just as people would imagine; if I asked someone to imagine an alien creature, it would be all over the place. But then, with the Betty and Barney Hill case, you began to get the little big-eyed, big-headed humanoid, and that type came back and back until now, if you go into a toy store and you look at aliens, you see pretty much that's the standard model. Very unlikely that if life developed on some distant planet, that it would look so much like us. We tend to make the various entities that we're interested in in our own image. And so Bigfoot is our big, stupid cousin from the past, and ET is our futuristic relative coming from the future back to save us. These are forms of us. Of course, ghosts are transparent forms of us; angels are us with wings, and of course, vampires are us with an attitude."[41]

Magazine articles and website blogs[edit]

Nickel has written the "Investigative Files" column for the Skeptical Inquirer(SI) magazine since 1995 and contributes frequently to the Center for Inquiry website. The articles reflect the range of Nickell's interests and investigative skills, including spontaneous human combustion, ghost photographs, reincarnation, voodoo, Bigfoot, quack medicine, Elvis, psychic frauds, and phrenology. In his SI article about the Bell Witch Poltergeist, Nickell analyzed the content of the alleged Bell Manuscript for anachronistic references and word use, comparing the writing styles of Richard Williams Bell, the reported original author, and M.V. Ingram, the reporter who expanded on the story 50 years later. Nickell concludes, "Given all of these similarities be­tween the texts, in addition to the other evidence, I have little hesitation in concluding that Ingram was the author of 'Bell'".[42]

Nickell's writing for the Center for Inquiry (CfI) includes "Nickell-odeon Reviews", written with an emphasis on the facts behind the scripts. Nickell adds credibility to the plot of the Charles Dickens movie, "The Invisible Woman." "Although not mentioned in the movie, posthumous confirmation of the affair came from Dickens' letters. Although many had been destroyed by his family, some merely had offending passages inked out. But that cloak of invisibility was ineffective: Dickens scholars turned to forensics, using infrared photography to read the obscured portions. These contained references to “Nelly” and confirmed the persistent rumors."[43]

Awards[edit]

Nickell received the 2004 Isaac Asimov Award from the American Humanist Association[44] and was a co-recipient of the 2005 and the 2012 Robert P. Balles Prize in Critical Thinking, awarded by CSICOP, now called CSI.[45]

He was also presented an award for promotion of science in popular media at the 3rd Annual Independent Investigative Group IIG Awards, held on May 18, 2009.[46]

In October 2011 asteroid 31451 (1999 CE10) was named JoeNickell in his honor by its discoverer James E. McGaha.[47]

Major works[edit]

Gallery of photos[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Timothy Davies, "Who Was Hannah Crafts?", Salon.com, 24 Apr 2002, accessed 27 Jul 2009
  2. ^ a b Nickell, Joe "Family Man". joenickell.com. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  3. ^ Bilger, Durkhard (December 23 & 30, 2002). "Waiting for Ghosts". The New Yorker. 
  4. ^ a b Nickell, Joe (2012).CSI Paranormal. (Inquiry Press): Amherst, NY. pp. 66, 68, 82 and 119.
  5. ^ Nickell, Joe "Fiancé". joenickell.com. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  6. ^ Nickell, Joe (March/April 2005). "Intuition: The Case of the Unknown Daughter". Skeptical Inquirer: 12. 
  7. ^ "Brief Biography of Joe Nickell". The Secular Web. 
  8. ^ Nickell, Joe "Literary Detective". joenickell.com. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  9. ^ Nickell, Joe "Folklorist". joenickell.com. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  10. ^ Strachan, Alistair (April 2007). "A Paranormal Investigator's Brush With Hollywood". Fortean Times. Retrieved 10 July 2014. "I liked the first 10 or 15 minutes, where the character seemed to be doing something similar to what I do. But then it changed into the world of the supernatural, which, for good or evil, has never happened to me: I've never had frogs rain down upon upon me!" 
  11. ^ "Loren Coleman on new Nessie Footage". YouTube. 2007-06-01. Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  12. ^ "CNN - Joe Nickell and the Exorcist". YouTube. 2008-11-01. Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  13. ^ Sullivan, Stephen D. (2008-09-24). "MONSTERQUEST: Lake Monsters of the North". Stephendsullivan.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  14. ^ Bilger, Burkhard (December 23, 2002). "Waiting for Ghosts: The many careers of Joe Nickell, paranormal investigator". THE NEW YORKER. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  15. ^ Joe Nickell, D.J. Grothe (2007). The 11th Annual CFI Houdini Seance (mp3). Center for Inquiry. Retrieved July 9, 2014. 
  16. ^ Smith, Blake (April 20, 2011). "Tracking The ManBeasts". MonsterTalk. Skeptic Magazine. 
  17. ^ Nickell, Joe. "Books". Joe Nickell. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  18. ^ Nickell, Joe (1993). Looking for a Miracle: Weeping Icons, Relics, Stigmata, Visions and Healing Cures. Prometheus Books. ISBN 9781615924646. 
  19. ^ Joe Nickell (2007). Joe Nickell - The New Idolatry (mp3). Center for Inquiry. Retrieved July 9, 2014. 
  20. ^ Calvin, John (2008). Treatise on Relics. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. 
  21. ^ Calbreath, Donald F. (May 3, 2013). "The Science of Miracles". New York Journal of Books. 
  22. ^ Hood, Mary (Spring 1992). "Pen, Ink, & Evidence". Georgia Review 46 (1): 178–180. 
  23. ^ Nickell, Joe (1996). Detecting Forgery. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky. 
  24. ^ "Review of Crime Science: Methods of Forensic Detection". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  25. ^ Nickell, Joe (2009). Real or Fake: Studies in Authentication. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. p. 87. 
  26. ^ a b Grothe, D.J. "Joe Nickell-Humanistic Skepticism". Point of Inquiry. 
  27. ^ Berstein, Adam. "Psychology Expert Robert Baker; Unmasked Ghostly Apparitions". The Washington Post. "Dr. Baker was foremost a skeptic, believing that one could not assume from the start that unusual phenomena—ghosts, UFO abductions, lake monsters, remembrances of past lives -- were real. In books and scholarly articles, he argued that they could be explained as mental states, that abductions by aliens, for example, were hallucinations -- or "waking dreams" -- that occur in the twilight zone between fully awake and fully asleep." 
  28. ^ D.J. Grothe, Jim Nickell, Tom Flynn, (2006). Joe Nickell - Psychic Detectives (mp3). Point of Inquiry. Retrieved July 9, 2014. 
  29. ^ Nickell, Joe (2012). The Science of Ghosts. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. p. 280. 
  30. ^ Nickell, Joe (Spring, 1983). "The Nazca Drawings Revised". Skeptical Inquirer. 
  31. ^ Eager, Harry (January 5, 2010). "Secrets of the Sideshows". 
  32. ^ Grabianowski, Ed (August 12, 2011). "Paranormal Investigator Joe Nickell Reveals the Truth Behind Modern Cryptozoological Myths". io9. 
  33. ^ Nickell, Joe (2011). Tracking the Man-Beasts. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. pp. 217–218. 
  34. ^ Rooks, P.J. "Wonder Workers! How They Perform The Impossible". Grown-Up's Guide To The Best Children's Books. 
  35. ^ D.J. Grothe (2006). Joe Nickell - Aliens and Abductions (mp3). CENTER FOR INQUIRY. Retrieved July 9, 2011. 
  36. ^ Dulay, Cindy Pierson. "The Kentucky Mint Julep". Horse-Races.Net. 
  37. ^ Pope Francis and the Turin Shroud: Making sense of a mystery (March 31, 2013). The Economist archive.
  38. ^ Nickell, Joe (1983). Inquest On The Shroud Of Turin. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. 
  39. ^ Raphael, Sally Jesse. "Sally". YouTube. 
  40. ^ "The Warren Omission". Skeptic Magazine. October 16, 2013. 
  41. ^ Novella, Dr. Steven. "Podcast #62, September 27, 2006". Skeptics Guide to the Universe. 
  42. ^ Nickell, Joe (2014). "The ‘Bell Witch' Poltergeist Investigative Files". http://www.csicop.org. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  43. ^ Nickell, Joe. "The Invisible Woman". Center for Inquiry. 
  44. ^ "HUMANISTS TO HONOR LEAD IMAGING SCIENTIST ON THE CASSINI SATURN PROJECT". American Humanist Association. 
  45. ^ "Skeptic Authors Steven Salzberg and Joe Nickell to Receive Balles Prize in Critical Thinking". Skeptical Inquirer, June 14, 2012. 
  46. ^ "IIG | The IIG Awards". Iigwest.com. 2010-08-21. Retrieved 2011-07-01. 
  47. ^ "31451 Joenickell (1999 CE10)". JPL Small-Body Database Browser. NASA. October 12, 2011. Retrieved October 31, 2011. 

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